Tag Archives: baking

Some Photos from the Archives

I had a look through a few old photos on an SD card last night. I’m having to use one of the cameras as a card reader now the reader on the computer is bust. None of my plug in card readers work because they never seem to last long. It’s very frustrating.

The first ones are a few photos from the days when I used to cook wheatsheaf loaves at harvest time. The farmer’s mother used to like to take one to church for the harvest festival and we used to display them at the local show. They aren’t particularly artistic, and nothing like as good as one produced by a professional, but it does show what you can do with dough and patience.

I’ve shown these before, so sorry about the repetition, but it’s a nice reminder of the days when we could get flour.

This is a pair I made using leftover pizza dough. They were about eight inches high and we handed them round to visiting school parties until they fell apart. I’m told that if you dry them properly whilst baking you can make a loaf that will last for years. I never found that, mine always seemed to crack and fall apart. It may have been the way I constructed them as they seemed to fracture along fault lines as if there was an internal problem. One did last a couple of years but these small ones, like the larger ones, lasted a couple of months before the faults developed. It’s long enough – as harvest ends and autumn begins everyone wants to move on to apple juice and jam.

These are a couple of mice from different loaves. You make an egg shaped piece of dough, poke two eyes in the sharp end, make two scissor snips for ears and then stick it on the stalks before applying a tail. It’s actually what you are judged on.

Nobody remarks on the 30 stalks you laboriously roll out, or the 100 ears of wheat (and the hundreds of snips you make to give them texture) – they just want to point at the mouse.

It’s like peering at the Mona Lisa for ten minutes before saying ‘Nice frame.’

Wheatsheaf Loaf (with mouse)

Wheatsheaf Loaf (with mouse)

I can’t remember the exact instructions, but you make a dough with less yeast than usual and divide it into three. One third becomes the base, which is a keyhole shaped piece of flat dough you use as a base – it’s important to get that in the right proportion if the finished loaf is to look right – it took me several goes to get this right. One third becomes the ears and one third becomes stalks and extras.

Do the stalks and position them, do the ears. A piece of dough about the size of the top finger joint will be OK – give it a few snips for texture and that’s a good enough impression of an ear of wheat – nobody ever criticised. Make a decent width of plait to act as the binding – it also serves to cover the raggedy join between stalks and ears.

Then finish off with a mouse. The previous tedious hour of shaping and snipping means nothing if the mouse isn’t right.

Glaze it, remembering not to clog the detail, bake it, try to dry it out as much as possible then cool it and stand back to receive compliments from people who don’t really understand how simple it is.

Remember that although the traditional ones were often two or three feet long that is because they were made by commercial bakers with big ovens – in a domestic oven you can do one about eighteen inches high.

If you feel inspired to try one, here are some better instructions.

Tomorrow I have some pictures of scones.

Sunday Morning Catch Up

I haven’t been particularly fluent in the last week and I’ve missed a few things out.

The anti-coagulant blood test came and went. They managed to get the blood first time and the next appointment is in two weeks time so things are back on track. I’m hoping to extend the interval so I only need monthly tests. I know someone who has quarterly tests, which would be even better.

We went to the farm on Friday, as I mentioned and found that Evie the sheep dog had died at the weekend. The general view is that she had eaten poison, though I’m not sure where she would have found any as all the rat poison round the place is put out properly in bait boxes. It’s not the best run farm but they do get that right.

She was bred to herd sheep, and as I mentioned when she first arrived she immediately tried to herd the Quercus group, but she was never properly trained and I’m not sure if she had a fulfilled life or not. She didn’t seem overly happy at times, which is a shame.

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The new puppy

The men in sheds were saying how good my bread was on Friday. This isn’t linked to any proper measure of quality, they just used to like getting free bread when I was practising and made too much. I said I didn’t bake these days as the kneading plays havoc with my arthritis. Next thing I knew I was being offered healing.

I’m not much of one for faith healing and that sort of thing, and was prepared to feel no benefit, but can’t say that was the case. There may have been some improvement for a couple of days, but it might just be wishful thinking. The jury is out, but I’m certainly not going to dismiss it. The improvement may show more about my imagination than about my arthritis, but even an imaginary improvement is worth having.

Then on Saturday I met a paranormal investigator. You’ll have to come back later for details, as I need to get down to the launderette now. Suffice to say that if I had doubts about healing…

 

Feeling Better Already

The foot still hurts, but I’m feeling a lot more cheerful and I’m actually starting to think again, even though it’s only a couple of hours from my last post. Julia says I’m also looking pink again after several days of looking grey.

While I was in the surgery this afternoon, despite having a book in my pocket, I just didn’t have the energy to read it. This is much more of an indicator of my wellbeing than a temperature measurement, because, as we saw earlier, I didn’t actually notice I had a temperature.

I’ve been missing my photography recently so I’ve decided to post a few of my favourite photos.

The featured image is one of the mice off a wheatsheaf loaf. I always liked making them, both the loaves and the mice. It’s actually very simple, though I never did get the knack of drying them out properly, so they had a tendency to curl up and go mouldy.

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Little and Large!

I couldn’t do without a picture of the Odd Couple. I haven’t been able to visit for a few weeks now, but I’ll be going as soon as I can walk.

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Nuthatch at Rufford Abbey

I like Nuthatches, and we had a good day at Rufford on this particular day. In fact we’ve never had a better day photographing birds in the woods at Rufford. However, I live in hope.

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Julia at Clumber Park

There are other subjects for photography apart from birds, wives for instance. This is a particularly fine example, and I would probably have starved to death if she hadn’t been here to look after me over the last few weeks.

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I forget the name of this one, but it’s quite impressive.

I’m going to miss the garden this year, it was so easy to pop out when the sun shone. Our own garden needs a bit of work after being ignored for years.

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Right place, right time

I may have to enhance the rainbow, but it’s still a favourite shot of mine.

More photographs in a day or two.

 

Medecine, mistakes and a misapprehension

On the grounds of good taste I’m not going to go into detail about what happened at hospital this afternoon.

The facilities are good, the staff were cheerful and I was only away from home for 45 minutes (we can see the hospital from our house so travel doesn’t take long). Despite this I’m not very happy with the experience.

It’s hard to feel satisfaction when you go in for tests and come out without having the tests done.

The NHS did not cover itself in glory today.

However, my day was better than the man who was waiting with me. He  was under the misapprehension that they were going to put the camera down his throat.

 

Today’s photographs are just a few selected from thousands…

 

 

Pride, a fall and more gingerbread

I was very pleased with myself last week after the gingerbread baking session.

Obviously I should have known better, pride going before a fall, and all that. Or, Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18) for those of you who prefer your quotes accurate.

To put it another way, whilst having a second go to make sure the recipe works, I had a bit of a problem and the biscuits were not as good this time. I won’t bore you with details, but I will have a bit of a rethink.

Then I tried making Grantham Gingerbread. They are a traditional biscuit, first produced by accident in 1740, and not really like a gingerbread at all, being light in colour and sweet in taste, with not much ginger flavour. That will be something that changes before the next batch.

Mine turned out looking suitably cracked, but rather flat, at which point I remembered that I should have used self-raising flour rather than using the plain flour I had just used in the gingerbread men.

Even so, some had risen and had honeycomb centres, so they weren’t too bad.

Based on a post in Pies and Prejudice (a fine food blog, though modesty prevents me mentioning who writes it) I had an unusual salad with my lunch today – nasturtium leaves and flowers, feral rocket and a cultivated sorrel leaf.

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Foraged nasturtium salad

Julia and the girls started to assemble the poppy project ready for November, using the poppies made by using the bases of plastic bottles.

We had enquiries about Men in Sheds, an educational visit for next spring, renting the room, apple pressing and a forthcoming visit (the teacher wants to know what we have planned – I’m not sure she is expecting the answer “nothing” so I’d better get thinking).

At the end of the day, we had unexpected visitors, which was pleasant, and gave me a chance to offload some biscuits.

That’s about it.

I’ll be going soon, just need to get down on my hands and knees to find out what is jamming the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.

There’s always something…

 

 

 

Flintham Show

Well, after days of baking and making salt dough shapes the show finally arrived, as did busloads of kids.

Apart from salt dough and bread tasting we had the bread story,  corn dollies (with paper straws), the bread shed, adverts for our two new educational units (Festive wreaths and the Great War), the famous Ecocentre bread-plaiting roadshow (modesty prevents me telling you which charismatic,  bearded fat man runs that) and Julia’s two pig sculptures made from straw bales..

Of course, with all the good stuff, we also had a helping of adversity. One of the wheatsheaves, having dried badly, developed cracks before falling apart, and Julia’s pigs suffered from an outbreak of vandalism. They were popular all day, but for some reason we kept having to retrieve the snouts and ears from various souvenir-hunting children.

In a short break I managed to knock up a small wheatsheaf loaf to check how practical it was as a group exercise. It seems OK in terms of scale and time, though I couldn’t get anyone to give it a try on the day. That’s one for next week. Note the decorative charring to the smaller loaf – a feature of all our bread on the day.

Fortunately the day, which started cold and drizzly, was dry and sunny by the  time the gates opened and all the hard work of the show committee paid off. The photos don’t do it justice, but it’s hard to fit it in with the other activities. By the end of the day all I wanted to do was sit down – one bread roll a child for 80 children is works out at about 12 sessions and 6 kilos of dough, all mixed by hand.

The results of the Bread Test were:

  1. Home baked white
  2. TESCO cheap white sliced
  3. Home baked brown and shop bought seeded brown  (a tie)

We’ve run this session a number of times and it’s always the same – a narrow win for home made white over Chorleywood white sliced with brown, seeded and sourdough lower down. So I won, but it’s depressing.

It’s the first day of our marathon session – six days and six visits.

I did the shopping yesterday – enough for 100 pizzas plus various other bits. I then spent a couple of hours on the farm cutting veg for pizza toppings and set things out for two classes of 22.

It was a good thing I got a good start as we (a) got stuck in traffic for half an hour and (b) had to clean the corn mill, which had been brought back from the barn in a dreadful state.

By the time I had finished cleaning, the school arrived.

It all went well, apart from the second session, where I forgot to write the names on the baking parchment. Despite this,the kids managed to identify their pizzas and everyone went away happy. I could have shown you a picture of this, if only Julia hadn’t borrowed my camera and disappeared with it.

The pictures I’ve used show kids handling the keets, making butter and standing outside the shed. The featured image is kids looking at cabbages. On a rainy Monday it was the best we had.

The session wasn’t brilliant, and there was a definite lack of education, because 22 six-year-olds can be a bit to excitable for that sort of thing. I’m unhappy that it was a lightweight session, but I’m happy that everyone seemed to have fun and the teachers were positive about the day. After examining the factors that lead to complaints being made against me, I’m taking a new attitude and just letting things drift along. If they don’t want to listen, what does it matter? I’m getting paid anyway, unlike the days when they cancel at short notice and I don’t get paid.

So – pluses from today – good advance planning, a cheerful demeanour and cash in my pocket. We persuaded seven kids to have egg on their pizzas, everyone identified their pizzas and we now have seven Polish eggs for hatching. Alasdair , Vicki and Kirsty all provided valuable support (they were the only 3 here to today) and I was able to work nettles into the conversation.  I’m also working on a unit on the Columbian exchange as the theme on Friday is “Explorers”.

Negatives – the thought that I might have sold out, the lack of photos and the weather.

So all in all it’s been a good day.

It’s the same school visiting again tomorrow, but with only 30 children, then a group with learning difficulties, then a Brownie group for Thursday night, a school on Friday and a Guide Group on Saturday. I’m allowed a day off on Sunday.

I’m already seeing pizza every time I blink, so I don’t know what it will be like by Sunday!

Light Rye Bread that lives up to its name

I’ve often found that Light Rye Bread isn’t, so if you detect a slightly cynical tone here please excuse me.

I have managed to cook decent rye bread in the past, but I have to admit that I’ve also managed to use exactly the same recipe to make bricks only a week or two later. There’s something about me and rye that doesn’t mix.

So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I found the bread group doing light rye this morning.

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Oat and Raisin cookies. 

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Could be a new TV cooking double act. The Bread Lady and her sidekick.

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Recipe

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Nicely floured and oven ready

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When shall we three meet again? Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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Different styles of loaf showing the grading from hand made to artisan and rustic. There are two more grades – “interesting” and “brave effort” but we avoided them.

As you can see, it all turned out well. Next lesson (in a fortnight) is going to be about making bread to hollow out and use as soup bowls for soup we will also be making. Usually I just lurk about and eat the free biscuits but for this one I may actually participate. I like soup.

Looking forward a little, In January, when many of them will be in India, it looks like I will be leading the session.

For a truly sophisticated bread making experience with the finest ingredients, technical hints and artisan skills you might be just as well waiting till February.

Great day in the bread class

It was a self-taught bread session today as Gail is of on her yearly pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. (I’m not sure what she does in the other eleven and a half months of the year that necessitates a regular pilgrimage to cleanse her soul, and I’m not prepared to speculate because I’ve seen the way she handles a knife). I would say something about trying to curry favour, but that would be an appallingly obvious bad pun, even by my low standards.

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Very interesting but what about me getting a look?

The subject was flat-bread, and Nina took the class. Now, she could have done types of world flat bread, with notes and theory and an overview and a summing up. It would have been good and we’d have all learned something. But she knows her audience better than that. We did flat-breads of several varieties but we also ended up with a chickpea and potato curry, a bean and courgette curry (hows that for a summer glut-buster when only beans and courgettes seem to be producing?) plus an apple chutney and a bean side dish. And we still learned something.

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Circular chapatis are not as easy as they look. Mine usually look like a map of Africa

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Note the special pan

It was also something of a training exercise because a small group of the bread students are off to India in January with Nina as guide. It’s sounds like it’s going to be fun but after my last trip abroad (which featured a riot, close shaves on the road, police attention, Kalashnikovs and a really bad bowel problem) I let my passport lapse and decided to leave travel to people with stronger nerves.

I’ve seen the Marigold Hotel films and I’m not sure I have the energy for a tour of India, what with the traffic and bustle and all that dancing. Even the promise of meditation and yoga doesn’t tempt me. And I certainly don’t have the fortitude to drink well water containing living things, even though Nina assures me she has never been ill from such water and that it contains healthy minerals. I like my water to stay still while I’m trying to drink it.

All I can say is that I’d be happy to be a vegetarian if I could always eat like this. Sadly it won’t happen as I just can’t season food like Nina, and what tastes absolutely brilliant after she has made it always tastes either insipid or searingly spicy after I’ve done it. I know practice makes perfect but I just don’t have the digestion for experimentation any more.

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Yes, it was every bit as good as it looks

The bread group, in case you are near, meets alternate Thursday mornings but it doesn’t always include curry. I’m probably safe in claiming that it covers the whole bread making experience for A to Z as we did once make zopf, which is the difficult end covered. Come along – you’ll enjoy it. And Gail always makes biscuits for the tea break.

Contact office@farmeco.co.uk for more details.

End of advert.

A blog in in which fingers are mentioned

I’ve been sleeping badly for the last few nights because I have a painful finger. Yes, that’s right, the large bearded man is whining about his finger. Sorry, but it hurts and I can’t get to sleep.

I know it doesn’t measure up to the pain of childbirth and stuff like that, and I realise that having to open bottles with my left hand isn’t officially recognised as a disability but it’s amazing how a little thing like that can affect your life.

Probably the worst thing is the uhtceare. (Read the list behind this link by all means, but if you are one of those people who thinks in pictures, do not click the link in Number 9). Yes, fitful sleep causes a constant state of uhtceare, and for a man that has a lot to regret, this is not good. The result was that I travelled to work this morning wishing I didn’t have to go. This is very unusual.

Now, just in case you are thinking of telling me, as Julia does, that “it’s just arthritis”, stop and pause a minute – I don’t want to be told that bits of my body have entered old age.

Anyway, things got better when I reached the farm. The new apple press and scratter have arrived! We can now travel with and demonstrate pressing in schools (if anybody wants us while we have apples) and we can use it for the juicing days (starting from 12th September) instead of having to set the big one up to do a bucket of apples. That’s why the picture at the top of the blog shows two cardboard boxes. Not a very interesting picture by most standards, but quite exciting for me.

We had a nice steady flow of breakfast, there wasn’t much I needed to do and it was all very relaxed.I met the author of the nottsvillages blog, showed several people the visiting Painted Lady (it came back!), secured the offer of a moth trap, found a volunteer to do the job of Santa (let’s face it, I’m not a natural), took details from someone who wants to help with the bread group and took £10 after we were supposedly closed.

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As if that wasn’t enough, I also took the name of another baker, persuaded someone to come and do crafts at our Winter Event and had a good look round Project Molish (which started this weekend).

That, in the language of my youth, is a result!

I’m tired now – time for tea and cake, I think.